The Legal Aid Society Denounces The Brutality Against Inmates And Will Continue To Advocate To End The Violence
TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2014

The New York Times carried a story yesterday about physical abuse of prisoners at Rikers Island with interviews from several detainees who were brutally beaten by correction guards. The Legal Aid Society denounces this outrageous behavior and will continue to advocate for the rights of inmates and the end of this brutality through the efforts of our Prisoners' Rights Project.

Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP) seeks to redress these problems of physical abuse of prisoners and the treatment of those with mental illness, and has done so for decades. Through individual and class action lawsuits and advocacy with the Department of Correction, we have sought to reform the systems for oversight of use of force and violence in the jails. Those systems are broken, and our present class action suit, Nunez v. City of New York, seeks court –ordered reforms to halt systemic brutality in the City jails by changes in the Department of Correction’s use of force policy, the training of officers, the investigation of violent encounters in the jails, and the discipline of staff members who use excessive force. It also seeks damages for the twelve individual plaintiffs who were beaten by correction officers and suffered severe traumatic injuries, including facial fractures, spinal injuries, and concussions.

This class action follows a series of similar cases involving individual jails, in which PRP has obtained significant reforms but the Department of Correction has failed to maintain them. PRP has also represented individuals who have been brutalized by staff, and in some cases killed by staff. The City has recently agreed to pay $2.75 million to the estate of Ronald Spear, who was beaten to death in the Rikers Island infirmary. We recently settled the case of Aunray Stanford, who was severely beaten in the adolescent jail and sustained a facial fracture and lacerations that had to be sutured. PRP has just filed suit on behalf of Brian Mack, mentioned in the New York Times story, who was severely beaten on Rikers and who suffered orbital and jaw fractures followed by a seizure.

Every week, our Prisoners Rights staff, as well as our Criminal, Juvenile Rights and other Civil Practice staff, assists prisoners with mental illness in obtaining treatment and resolving their concerns about their conditions of confinement. Legal Aid is part of the Jails Action Coalition, which has filed a petition for rule-making with the City Board of Correction which seeks significant reforms in the use of solitary confinement, including the exclusion of persons with mental illness, since it is now clear that isolation exacerbates psychiatric illnesses and increases the risk of suicide and other self-harm. PRP has recently completed litigation that among other things improved the treatment of prisoners with mental illness in the prison wards of the City hospitals.

The Prisoners Rights Project collects information about physical abuse at Rikers Island. To report an incident of abuse, call the Prisoners Rights Project at 212-577-3530.